Zach Morek bio photo

Zach Morek


Using Ruby and Capybara to Scrape

Use every day rubyist tools to scrape websites.


  • Create a wrapper class
  • include Capybara::DSL
  • visit ''

The Copy-Pasteable Bits

The Setup

 1 require 'csv'
 2 require 'capybara'
 3 require 'capybara/poltergeist'
 5 class WebScraper
 6   include Capybara::DSL
 7   Capybara.default_driver = :poltergeist
 8   Capybara.register_driver :poltergeist do |app|
 9     options = { js_errors: false }
10, options)
11   end
13   def scrape
14     yield page
15   end
17   def self.scrape(&block)
18     new.scrape(&block)
19   end
20 end

The Crawling

 1 WebScraper.scrape do |page|
 2   page.visit ''
 4   10.times do |i|
 5     begin
 6       File.write("search_#{i}.html", page.html)
 7       page.within '#foot' do
 8         page.has_content? 'Next'
 9         page.find_link('Next').trigger('click')
10       end
11       sleep 5 # wait so that we don't hit their server too hard
12     rescue Capybara::ElementNotFound
13       # require 'byebug'; byebug # use this to start investigating why the page link is broken
14       puts 'could not find link'
15     end
16   end
17 end

The Parsing

 1 csv_rows = []
 2 Dir.glob('search*.html').each do |file_path|
 3   page =
 4   rows = Nokogiri::HTML(page).css('div#search div#ires li.g') # grab each result
 5   rows.each do |row|
 6     link_text = row.css('h3.r').text
 7     green_url = row.css('div.kv cite').text
 8     description = row.css('').text
10     csv_rows << [link_text, green_url, description]
11   end
12 end
14'searches.csv', 'wb') do |csv|
15   csv_rows.each do |csv_row|
16     csv << csv_row
17   end
18 end

Random Thoughts That May Be Helpful

We decided to use Capybara since it readily uses javascript in its headless browser, but Mechanize doesn’t. Also since we already are using Capybara for our test suite, it’s a much more familiar tool to use when programmatically navigating web pages. The code above is a bit of a simplified example, but structurally can be extended to handle arbitrary page navigation and data grabbing.

  • Doing the page grabbing and data scraping separate allows us to gather data and save it in case our scraper runs into problems
  • You will likely have to cleanup your csv after you finish. Pages will have edge cases you didn’t plan for when scraping. If you’ve saved your files while scraping you’ll save yourself the trouble of re-running the entire web crawling part.
  • Scope your css or xpaths as specific as you can to make sure you get only the right elements

Code Tips

  • sleep x timers are good to keep from getting rate limited or blocked, it’s also being nice to their servers :-)
  • Extra puts x statements can be helpful in keeping track of what page you’re on in a long and slow scrape.
  • Use byebug and other debugging tools to figure out why links aren’t working or pages are parsing wrong
  • Put all your scraping stuff into its own dir so that you don’t mix files up: FileUtils.mkdir_p "page_dumps/#{}"
  • Useful trick for file naming: 1.to_s.rjust(3, '0') # => 001

Other useful tools for scraping